Published February 01, 2008 by
Once there was a young man named Kowashi, who lived with his old mother in a small Japanese village at the foot of the mountain. They were happy, respectable people and lived their lives in the simple, good way.
There was just one thing the young man used to wonder about. His mother used to be a gentle, sweet little woman. But when she got to be about eighty years old, he began to notice that she had long, sharp, pointed teeth. She used to eat her fish, tail, eyes, and all; she even seemed to enjoy crunching up the raw bones.
One night a fish peddler of Kowashi's village was walking home through the mountain pass after . a day's work at the market. He had not sold all his fish that day. And those left over were in the fishing gift basket which he carried on a pole over his shoulder.
He was not afraid of night robbers, because it was a bright moonlit night and he could see every stick and stone in the path.
Suddenly he was set upon by a whole horde of cats. They smelled the fish in his basket and were determined to get it.
He fought them off with the long pole. And he fought so smartly that finally the cats gave up the fight. Then one of them said, "Go call Old Woman Kowashi."
"That's funny," the peddler said to himself, for young Kowashi and his mother were his neighbors in the village.
So the man quickly climbed into a pine tree, wondering what would happen next.
In the moonlight the man could see the path and all the cats and their shadows as plain as day.
Soon one of the cats said, "Here she comes." Another said, "Here comes Old Woman Kowashi."
The man looked. And what he saw was a big tough old gray cat coming through the pass.
"He won't give us the fish!" all the cats said together.
So the big gray cat climbed up into the fish peddler's tree. The peddler was lying stretched out along a branch. The cat crawled out along the same branch until she came close to him - eye to eye!
Inch by inch she came nearer. Each of her sharp claws looked six inches long.
What could he do?
Suddenly he remembered that he had his fish gaff with him. (A fish gaff is a heavy barbed hook with a wooden handle, used for hauling heavy fish into a boat.)
Quickly he grabbed the fish gaff and gave the big gray cat a whack on the head.
Just about then the sun peeked over the horizon, It was morning, and all the cats vanished instantly. One minute they were there, and the next minute they were gone - just like that.
The fish peddler climbed down from the tree and hurried home. And that morning he went and told young Kowashi the whole story.
The young man listened and nodded his head.
He was thinking about how his mother had changed, and how her teeth had gotten so pointed. And just this morning he had noticed a deep gash on her head.
Now he asked her how she had cut herself, and she glared at him with baleful eyes and snarled, baring her long pointed teeth.
So young Kowashi suddenly understood: a cat witch had taken his mother's place! Quickly he seized the witch, drew his long sword, and cut off her head at one stroke.
Then he looked down, and what lay at his feet was a bloody old gray cat.
Not long after this, Kowashi discovered that the wicked cat witch had killed his real mother and buried her in the garden.